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Design Your Difference

By Renee Obrecht-Como, Program Operations Director — Health and Nutrition

I associate this time of year in Family Development with planning. We are poised for a new University fiscal year, and the annual SNAP-Ed Plan comes due. This year, we also have a five-year plan for EFNEP in progress. It’s an exciting time, when the focus is on our hopes and dreams for the coming year’s work.

With this frame, a piece from the CBS Sunday Morning news show a couple of weeks ago, Designs That Make a Difference, struck me. It was all about functional, beautifully designed pieces used by people living on limited financial resources. In one example, Yves Behar, a prominent industrial designer, described one of his proudest achievements: $5 eyeglasses that are worn by millions of Mexican schoolchildren who cannot afford glasses at a retail price. The children already had glasses, handed out by the government. However, the children were not wearing those glasses because of their unfashionable design. The new glasses are not only functional (rugged, able to withstand high levels of distortion), but they are also stylish, with multiple colors and shapes.

Children wearing glasses from the Collección Escolar 2010 line. Photo from Brain Pickings.

The children do wear the glasses designed by Yves Behar — improving their quality of life and readiness to learn. As Behar stated, “I think the notion that because somebody is poor they don’t have the same appreciation for beauty or function is completely erroneous. It’s incredibly insulting, if you really think of it.”

As I watched this news piece, utterly enthralled, I recalled a keynote speaker from the 2012 Food Access Summit in Duluth. Michel Nischan, a chef and co-founder of the national nonprofit Wholesome Wave, talked about surveys of individuals living on limited financial resources. As survey questions were developed, he found himself uncertain about asking respondents whether they valued locally grown foods. Was the source of food really important to people struggling to put any kind of food on the table? Sitting in the audience, I wondered the same thing. As the surveys came in, it turned out that there was significant interest in purchasing locally grown foods. Nischan’s remarks led me to wonder how often we unwittingly decide in advance what participants think, feel, and value, without testing what are, in essence, hypotheses.

You’ve probably heard this quote from author Vernon Wall: “Equality is giving everyone a pair of shoes. Equity is giving everyone a pair of shoes that fit.” Let's take this a step further: What about a pair of shoes that fit and are stylish?

As you plan, hope, and dream for the coming year’s programming, whether it’s in Health and Nutrition or Family Resiliency, what is your equivalent of stylish shoes that fit? How will you create programs that are not only equitable, but used because they offer both beauty and function? How will you design your difference?
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